The Technique of Iconography
The techniques used for painting icons on panels go back to the Egyptian tomb paintings. Originally they would have been encaustic; where pigments were mixed with wax and painted with a heated trowel. However, the most widespread painting technique was egg tempera; used because of its deep iridescence and beauty. The earliest examples are fifth century and it is still used extensively today.
The principle is to use a fresh egg yolk mixed with wine or purified water. This tempera (the glue) is then mixed with natural earth and mineral pigments - such as yellow and red ochres, iron oxides, malachite (green), lapis lazuli (blue), and cinnabar (red) - painted on to a lime or poplar wood board that has been covered with rabbit skin glue and linen, then coated with many layers of chalk with marble dust (gesso), and smoothed to a satin finish. The back of the icon has braces while the front has a recessed centre – the ‘Window to Heaven’ through which the Holy Person is realised.
The paint is laid down either as a series of coloured washes and highlights or as small brush strokes, or as a mixture of both, but only after the gold leaf has been carefully applied.
Having tried various schools Annie specialised in the Russian/Byzantine technique, as taught by the Prosopon School, based on the painting style found in the Novgorod and Pskov areas of Russia.
This style uses many layers of floats/glazes and highlights – starting with the primordial chaos and gradually reaching the Divine Energies. The first highlights are melted or blended out to create a human form; while later ones are more angular breaking up the form to create an unworldly, transfigured figure. The coloured transparent floats enhance the colours, rather than make them heavy and solid, keeping the lightness and transparency.
Each layer has its own deep symbolic meaning and the effect is to give a truly transcendent quality to the Holy Person.
When finished the icon is both protected and anointed by layers of linseed oil that is applied by hand.
Ideally the icon is placed in the Sanctuary of an Orthodox Church, where it stays for forty days, before it is blessed.